Polanski, Goddard, Balogh and the Age of Consent

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13/08/2015 by socialistfight

Goddard

Helen Goddard, “I can’t see for the life of me what’s wrong with what she has done. They were both willing participants over a long time. Society has gone mad and the do gooders are to blame for the way these so called ‘incidents’ are punished” – Daily Telegraph reader Dick Van Dyke .

Polanski, Goddard, Balogh and the Age of Consent

By Angela Jane Byrne

From Socialist Fight No. 3, autumn 2009.

At the end of September (2009) the famous director Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland for a brutal rape he had committed against a 13 year old girl in 1977 in California. The details of what he did to the girl are truly appalling; They are here; http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/polanskicover1.html. He fled whilst on bail, having reduced the charge to unlawful sex with a minor (under the age of consent laws) on a plea bargain. We can only hope that he does not escape again and is returned to serve a lengthy sentence. That being said we are absolutely opposed to the current “paedophile” witch hunt which aims to paint all gay men as paedophiles under the guise of attacking Polanski’s crimes. But this crime has nothing to do with her age as such. The girl’s testimony leaves no room for doubt, she rejected his advances several times and he raped her. Whether she had had sex or taken drugs before or not is totally irrelevant; we reject the reactionary “precocious Lolita” defence, only pleaded by those imbued with patriarchal antifeminist prejudices.

Helen Goddard and Pamela Balogh

Just over a week before the arrest of Polanski music teacher Helen Goddard got 15 months jail for a lesbian affair with 15-year old schoolgirl. The affair was entirely consensual on both sides, in fact the pupil initiated it and still wishes to continue it when Goddard gets out of jail, saying she is still in love with her teacher. Godard was jailed under age of consent laws, the same (plea-bargained-down) law that Polanski was charged with. Judge Pitts refused to bar Goddard from contacting the pupil, saying: ‘It would be unnecessary, unkind, and cruel to the victim.’ Goddard will have to sign the sex offenders’ register for ten years, and is banned from teaching children for life. But the judge refused to ban her from being alone with underage girls.

In Somerville, New Jersey, USA a former girls’ PE teacher, Pamela Balogh, was sentence to 7 years for a lesbian affair with a 15 year old student of hers. She refused a plea bargain of ten years, and was found not guilty in December 2007 of first degree sexual assault, but guilty on the other, lesser counts. The pupil denounced the teacher violently; as did her parents. Their affair had continued for 9 months. If convicted on the first degree sexual assault charge Balogh could have gone to prison for up to 40 years.

The pupil said that she has suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome and does not play any of the sports she once did. She says she feels guilty for telling the truth (she confided in two fellow pupils). She said of Balogh,

“Pam, I don’t care what sentence you get … I refuse to feel bad for your going to jail. Bottom line: I was a child. I was innocent. I was whole … Bottom line: You were wrong and you should have known better.”

This age of consent language is clearly borrowed from the witch hunters.

And here we see the appalling injustices perpetrated by the age of consent laws. The age of consent varies widely from one state to another in the USA and internationally; it varies from as low as 9 years in Yemen (but you have to be married!) to 12 in some Mexican states and 13 in Spain and Japan. The age of consent in Tunisia is 20. And the age of homosexual consent is different in many cases; apart from fundamentalist countries where it is illegal and frequently punished by stoning to death and hanging it is almost always higher than the heterosexual age of consent because of homophobic prejudices about “corruption” and the “turning” of adolescents by the influence of a relationship with a more mature person. Frequently there are harsher penalties for relationships where the age difference is over three, five or ten years.

The question is not just consent but “effective”, consent. In the first place there cannot be effective consent between a child and an adult in sexual relations. Before the age of sexual maturity this is a criminal matter. But there remains the question of the transitional period between childhood and adulthood. The problem here, of course, is how we define “effective” given that there is a transition to sexual maturity corresponding to, but not always coincident with, puberty. This is a real life watershed which is different for every individual and so cannot, and should not be, covered by age of consent laws. If such a case goes to court then it should be judged on its individual merits, not some draconian imposition that sends thousands to long prison terms because of anti-youth, anti-women and anti-gay-and-lesbian bigoted attitudes.

The comparison

The comparison between the three cases brings out in a stark manner what is wrong with the age of consent laws. It was totally unjust that Polanski’s brutal anal rape was plea-bargained down to the age of consent laws, when force was used. The New Jersey Attorney General attempted to “bargain-up” the case against Balogh so she would face the risk of 40 years in jail if she refused to plea bargain and force was proved. She got 3 years less by beating that rap. Balogh was convicted of second degree, not first degree sexual assault, because no force was used. That ‘assault’ without force or unwanted contact is a technicality of the age of consent laws.

In Goddard’s case it is undoubtedly true that the courage of her lover won for her the sympathy of the judge (he said it was “a difficult case”) and so reduced her sentence. Almost certainly Balogh got that savage seven years sentence because her ex-lover collapsed under the pressure of the witch hunt. It is likely the pupil suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome and was not playing any of the sports because she had a lesbian affair with her teacher, which was almost certainly consensual, and she was then outed as a lesbian and a viciously homophobic witch hunt followed which exposed to the ridicule of her fellow pupils and her parents’ anger.
There is nothing to be said in Polanski’s defence but he may end up with only the 42 days jail already served. The teachers’ careers were totally ruined; Polanski’s took off in 1977 with warm establishment assistance and approval. There does remain the issue of sexual relationships between teachers and pupils, similar to doctor-patient and other relationships where a powerful position of authority exists and consent is potentially compromised by that relationship. One should have changed school; it should now be a disciplinary matter for the employing authority or professional body responsible, not for the police and courts.

Those who prey on the sexually naïve or immature must be prosecuted and receive the appropriate jail terms (most are heterosexual) and psychiatric treatment. The law cannot stay out of all bedrooms. However in a society where private property is the overwhelmingly determinant of personal relationships, where love and sex are inevitably bound up with these distorting and alienating social relationship, we must always oppose the state intervening in free and mutual effective consenting sexual relationships.

Frederick Engels was right, “full freedom of marriage can therefore only be generally established when the abolition of capitalist production and of the property relations created by it has removed all the accompanying economic considerations which still exert such a powerful influence on the choice of a marriage partner. For then there is no other motive left except mutual inclination.” The defence of the nuclear family is a fundamental prop of private property, the age of consent legislation underpins the nuclear family and so props up all capitalist society.

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